Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Selichos and sleep (or lack of it) - Updated

This week and next are two of the toughest weeks for me of the year. I don't get that much sleep normally and with selichos a half an hour before davening my sleep time is cut even further. I have been davening vasikin for a while and while this week is tough (selichos starting around 5:50) next week is insane. After we change the clock netz is going to be around 5:40 with selichos starting around 4:50.

What is even more depressing is that even getting up this early I am not saying selichos at the real proper time. In fact, there are very few people who actually say selichos at the proper time. The shulchan aruch in siman 581 states that the minhag is to get up early in the morning before alos hashachar and say selichos.

The Mateh Efraim discusses saying selichos after Alos and says that b'dieved this is fine and that it is better to say selichos after Alos then not say them at all.

In other words, the proper time to say selichos is before Alos Hashachar, saying selichos after Alos Hashachar is only b'dieved. Considering that next week in Israel Alos Hashachar is before 4:30AM (depending on how exactly you figure it), there will be very few people saying selichos before Alos.

It is interesting how it has become completely acceptable to say selichos not only after Alos but after netz and no one says boo about it. Why by selichos are we so accepting of doing things in a b'dieved way?


One of the comments mentions what has become a common practice, saying selichos in the first half of the night. While it certainly appeals to my sense of sleep, all the sources that I saw do not recommend it (to say the least).

Here are some sources in the acharonim discussing the issue:

Mishnah Berurah 565:12, selichos should not be recited before midnight.

Sha'arei Teshuvah 581:1 quoting Birkei Yosef, one who finds himself in a shul where selichos are being recited before midnight, should not recite the Thirteen Attributes along with the congregation.

Igros Moshe O.C. 2:105, R' Moshe is very against the practice of saying selichos before midnight.

Yechave Da'as 1:46, prohibits saying selichos before midnight, instead he advises reciting selichos before Minchah.

R' Willig told us that based on the above, that instead of saying selichos at 10:30PM, a better choice is to daven mincha a little early and say them between mincha and maariv at the end of the day before sunset.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The real cost of mehadrin standards

In the Charedi world today, Mehadrin is the buzzword. Everything is mehadrin whether it is food, tefillin or buses.

At first glance this is a good thing. Why shouldn't people want to do the best that they can for Hashem? Why shouldn't we have the highest standards for food, tefillin etc.?

The answer is that there is no free lunch and mehadrin standards cost money, a lot of money.

A few days ago I posted (Entitled to tzedaka?) about R' Shlomo needing/accepting tzedaka to buy his son's tefillin. R' Shlomo didn't have money to buy tefillin and yet with the tzedaka money he bought the best mehadrin tefillin. The difference between the best mehadrin tefillin and non-mehadrin tefillin can be over 2000 shekel. Does it really make sense for someone who doesn't have the money to buy tefillin to use tzedaka money to buy mehadrin tefillin? Clearly R' Shlomo is poor. Wouldn't that 2000 shekel be better served using for more essential needs like food?

The same goes for food. Mehadrin chicken and meat is significantly more expensive. Does it make sense for people to go hungry or not eat chicken at all because they are buying mehadrin chickens?

I recently was solicited to donate money to build a mehadrin mikva. In Israel, mikvaos are built by the government. However, again, what the government builds is not mehadrin enough and therefore they are trying to raise millions of dollars to build a mehadrin mikva. Is this really the best use of millions of dollars of tzedaka money when people have no food, shelter etc.?

The fact is that I would guess that many people who eat only mehadrin, buy mehadrin tefillin etc. do so because of social norms and not because of any real religious reason. The average person has no idea what is the difference between a mehadrin chicken and a non-mehadrin chicken and is only buying mehadrin because that is what is socially acceptable. They are doing it by rote not any deep seated religious feeling. One of the unfortunate byproducts of the modern era is that it is very easy to find chumros. You can do a Bar Ilan search and find all kinds of chumros on every issue and the various hashgachos are competing on how many chumros they can follow.

The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch have a concept of יוהרא (see for example בבא קמא נט ב) that a person should not do things that make him look like he is super frum. For example the shulchan Aruch says that the average person shouldn't put on R' Tam tefillin because of יוהרא. Unfortunately this idea is gone today. No one cares about יוהרא, rather everyone wants to out frum the other person.

Imagine you take your 5 year child on a test drive of 2 cars, a Toyota Corolla and a Lexus. The child will not appreciate the leather seats, the superb handling, the quiet ride, etc. of the Lexus. From his perspective the 2 cars are basically the same. In many ways the same applies to most people regarding mehadrin, they don't appreciate the difference because they have no idea what the difference is and why A is better then B.

In a number of places the Mishna Berura writes בעל נפש יחמיר על כעצמו. Today everyone is מחמיר on these. However, that is not what the Mishna Berura wrote. He wrote that these chumras are for certain people, a בעל נפש, the fact that the average person considers himself a בעל נפש is the height of arrogance.

The bottom line is that mehadrin standards for everything cost a fortune of money that the Charedi world doesn't have today. Sometimes it is יצא שכרו בהפסדו. If eating only mehadrin chickens means that you can't afford chicken for Shabbos and therefore your oneg shabbos suffers, that is a steep price to pay. If buying mehadrin tefillin means you need to go into debt and can't buy food we need to ask whether it is worth it.

There needs to be a return to some kind of balance. Someone who follows the עיקר הדין should not be looked down upon like a second class citizen. On one hand, no one wants to eat non-kosher food, on the other hand we don't need to be חושש for every דעת יחיד.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pagan Sacrifices - Sacrificing our children for our honor

Two weeks R' Moshe Grylak wrote a fantastic editorial in the Mishpacha magazine in English. He accused many parents of sacrificing their children on the altar of family honor. He pointed out how many parents try to get their children into the top yeshiva for all the wrong reasons. The reasons range from, if their son is in a top yeshiva he will get a better shidduch with an apartment, their daughter will get a good shidduch, to the fact that the father will be embarrassed if his son is not in a top yeshiva. Unfortunately, for many of these kids this results in them being sacrificed as they do not succeed in the top yeshiva and either go off the derech or simply don't succeed in the yeshiva and end up hating learning.

This week he published a follow up column where he published some responses that he received:

So what do you want me to do? Not fight to get my son into a prestigious yeshiva? True, he won't really fit in there.
What you say is logical and true but it's almost impossible to apply in today's environment.

Furthermore the issue of shidduchim for girls is serious issue.
I stand to suffer serious damage and you tell me to ignore it?
I feel that you are right but I have no choice -- the social pressure and my family's image are stronger then me

The letter which was one of many, shows that while people talk a lot about emuna when push comes to shove they have none.

R' Grylak's answer is that we need to take a lesson from Avraham Avinu and do what is right even if the whole world is against us.

I was very impressed with these 2 columns and highly recommend them.

However, if we take R' Grylak's thesis to it's logical conclusion then it is really an indictment of the Charedi educational system in Israel as a whole. Just like he bemoans parents sacrificing their kids in the name of family honor, we should bemoan the many children in Israel sacrificed on the altar of no secular studies, no army, no work. How many kids could grow up to be wonderful Jews if they were given the chance to succeed outside the Beis Medrash? Imagine if they were given the chance to learn a trade or a profession instead of whiling away hours in the Beis Medrash doing nothing? Let's face it, not everyone is cut out to sit and learn all day, the Charedi world's insistence on every boy sitting and learning with no alternatives is sacrificing a lot of kids.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Entitled to tzedaka?

The Hamodia magazine published a tribute to someone who died recently and the story highlighted his generosity specifically in how he provided tefillin to bar mitzva boys who couldn't afford them.

However, the story was very troubling on another level. The recipient of the tzedaka seemed to feel entitled to the gift and had no sense of shame in taking it and felt no need to try to do anything to avoid needing the tzedaka.

The story is as follows.

Reb Nosson was a middle aged single man (no wife no children) who made aliya from Brooklyn. He learned in a yeshiva with Reb Shlomo "a very chashuve yid, a tremendous talmid chacham and a real masmid". When Reb Shlomo's oldest son was approaching Bar Mitzva Reb Shlomo had no money to buy him tefillin. A few months before the Bar Mitzva Reb Nosson gave him an envelope full of cash, enough to buy the best teffilin.

The next year was his second son's bar mitzva and again he had no money for tefilin. "I had no idea whether Reb Nosson's generosity would repeat itself this time around and with little alternative I waited to see what would happen. And in fact a few months before the bar mitzva the same scenario reoccurred. The story repeated itself four more times."

As you can see from the story already from the second son he felt a certain entitlement. He simply waited to see what would happen if the money would appear. Was there really nothing he could do? Why didn't he feel the need to try something so that he wouldn't need to take Reb Nosson's tzedaka?

The story goes on. "When my fifth son's bar mitzva was approaching Reb Nosson had already taken ill and hardly came to Yeshiva. I wondered whether this was the end of his generosity to me. After all out of sight means out of mind, didn't it?

Well it didn't ..."

Can you believe it? Reb Nosson is dying, alone, childless, and his friend (Reb Shlomo) is worried that Reb Nosson won't give him money so that he can buy tefillin for his son? How selfish is that? In fact, Reb Shlomo says that he was out of sight of Reb Nosson and he was worried that Reb Nosson forgot about him. Imagine, the man had no children, he is dying, and his chavrusa for whom he has done tremendous chesed for doesn't visit (otherwise why does he consider himself out of sight?)???

Contrast this to the following story about the Brisker Rav (published in במחיצתם). R' Shlomo Lorincz (the author) was traveling in America when he got an urgent letter that the Brisker Rav was sick and needed to move out of his small dark and dank apartment for health reasons. R' Lorincz immediately went to a rich relative and got a check for $20,000 to buy the Brisker Rav an apartment. However, before taking the check he said that he had to check with the Brisker Rav. He sent a telegram explaining things, and the Brisker Rav immediately responded "absolutely not". When he returned to Israel he went to the Brisker Rav to discuss the matter. The Brisker Rav asked him, how could you even consider that? How could I walk in the street living in someone elses house?

What a difference, the Brisker Rav was embarrassed to take charity while Reb Shlomo not only took it not once not twice but 5 times, but expected to get it and felt entitled to it.

This is a very big issue in today's world. everyone feels entitled. Boys who get married feel entitled to get an apartment from the girl's parents. They feel entitled to be supported. Today's Yeshiva Bachur has no compunction and feels no shame to take things for free even if he could do it himself. The idea of נהמא דכיסופא (literally free bread), which means that Hashem put us on this world so that we could earn our עולם הבא so we wouldn't be embarrassed by being נהנה מזיו השכינה for free, is a completely foreign concept to today's Yeshiva Bachur.

See these posts
Bnei Torah and a sense of entitlement
Why are you turning into a schnorrer?
for a similar theme.